Our ‘Constitution’ Means ‘Compromise’ At Its Very Core

by Frank Hill, Telemachus

There seems to be some confusion about what the ‘real’ intent of the Founding Fathers/Brothers was at Philadelphia in that hot, smelly, fetid summer of 1787. (Think about it for a second…no A/C; no refrigeration; no sanitation of streets where horses and carriages plied their trades)

Having the US Constitution in place means we have to find compromises in order to survive in our humble opinion.

While the words come from different roots and stock, they are intimately intertwined it seems. ‘Constitution' means ‘a set of rules and regulations’ to live by and ‘compromise’ means to ‘promise to accept a mutual agreement’ so the American Republic rests on our ability to do both.

We think the basic, core, hard bedrock principle that came out of Philadelphia was this hope and dream of all those brilliant guys:

‘We want everyone who comes after us to compromise after a period of enlightened, spirited debate based on reason and facts…so The People of The United States won’t kill each other through stupidity and hate and be thrown on the wasteheap of history like thousands of republics and governments before us.’

Of which James Madison and Thomas Jefferson knew about every single one of them, and they read about their collective demise in the original Greek and Latin. Have you?

How do we know that is what they wanted?

It is all embodied in the US Constitution, the greatest document ever written for secular civil government purposes.

Let us recount the ways:

  1. Total protection of the rights of the minority in this country.
  2. Small State equality in the Senate; 2 votes for each state regardless of size or population
  3. Freedom of speech for everyone at any time or place, not just the majority.
  4. Freedom of assembly for everyone at any time or place, not just the prevailing majority at the time.
  5. Freedom of religion for everyone at any time or any place, not just the prevailing majority.
  6. Presidential veto power, since he is the only official elected by the entire nation, over the duly-elected representatives of each state and each district.
  7. Super-majority of votes in Congress required for override of his veto on any bill; insures that minority party has a say in final legislation if the President is of their same political party and persuasion.
  8. Parliamentary procedures established by Jefferson led to the practice of the Senatorial ‘hold’ on any bill in the Senate where 1 Senator can hold up any bill for any reason under the sun, presumably to get a ‘compromise’ done.
  9. ‘Unanimous Consent’ needed in the Senate to advance a bill, meaning 100% of all 100 Senators agreeing to allow the consideration of a bill or amendment on the floor.
  10. Senate filibuster rules requiring 60 votes to break cloture and allowing debate on any bill to ensue.
  11. Constitutional amendments requiring 2/3rds majorities in both Houses of Congress AND ¾’s ratification of all 50 states.

There are more but this should be enough for now.

Now, with all of those constitutionally-installed and cemented-in-concrete principles protecting the rights of the minority in any consideration of any bill on any issue in the US Congress, how in the world are we EVER going to get anything done unless there is at least .000001% compromise from all sides to get a bill passed with 50%+1 majorities in the House and the Senate and signed into law by the President?

If you have never served in a legislative body in the minority party for 1 second, (we did it for 10 years!), you just can not appreciate just how important and critical it is to our national existence as the longest-running democratic republic on the planet that the Founders were brilliant enough to stick these minority rights in the Constitution and parliamentary procedures like a ‘bulwark never failing’ to protect all of our freedoms.

And if you have not ever served and just think that all you gotta do is spew vindictive and venom and hate and demand that ‘My Way…or the Highway!’ is the way to go, then you got a lot of learning to do about ‘winning friends and influencing people’ in the legislative arena at least.

Our take on such posturing is that such people are incapable of presenting the facts and ‘truths’ as they see them in such a persuasive manner so as to influence ‘the other side’ to agree with them, or at the very minimum, take their concerns into serious consideration and agree to even a tiny part of them. In other words, they apparently are not confident in their ability to educate, inform and 'sell' their ideas to a majority of legislators or the general public. This myopia applies to all sides; whether they be die-hard Republicans, Democrats, Tea Partiers, Libertarians or Martians sent to take over the Earth for the people of Mars!

If the choice is between agreeing 1000% with the calcified position of any so-called ‘leader’ of any faction in American politics today and getting nothing done ever on the big issues facing us as a nation or the reasoned, thoughtful insights of guys like Madison or Jefferson as expressed in the Constitution and the points highlighted above, we are going with Madison and TJ any time of the day, week, month or year.

C’mon! They agreed to let little ole Rhode Island come in as a state and have as many Senate votes (2) as big-state Virginia or Massachusetts or New York at the time! You think that went over well back home in those large states after Philadelphia?

But it was critical to getting the Constitution passed, the greatest civil governance document ever, if we needed to remind you.

We can compromise on getting the budget balanced, can’t we? $20 Trillion in national debt is coming up pretty darned quickly on the horizon, don’t you think?

(Editor's Note: Frank Hill's resumé includes working as chief of staff for Senator Elizabeth Dole and Congressman Alex McMillan, serving on the House Budget Committee and serving on the Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform. He takes on politics from a fiercely independent perspective at the blog Telemachus).

Somewhat related discussion at Memeorandum, here and here.


  1. Unfortunately, "compromise" usually results in the left getting only 50% of what they want while the right loses only 50% of what they stand for.

    Each step along the way, government gets bigger while individual liberty gets smaller.

    Could we compromise in the other direction for a few decades?

    Peggy Noonan said it much better than I can:

    Imagine that over at the 36-inch end you've got pure liberal thinking—more and larger government programs, a bigger government that costs more in the many ways that cost can be calculated. Over at the other end you've got conservative thinking—a government that is growing smaller and less demanding and is less expensive. You assume that when the two major parties are negotiating bills in Washington, they sort of lay down the yardstick and begin negotiations at the 18-inch line. Each party pulls in the direction it wants, and the dominant party moves the government a few inches in their direction.

    But if you look at the past half century or so you have to think: How come even when Republicans are in charge, even when they're dominant, government has always gotten larger and more expensive? It's always grown! It's as if something inexorable in our political reality—with those who think in liberal terms dominating the establishment, the media, the academy—has always tilted the starting point in negotiations away from 18 inches, and always toward liberalism, toward the 36-inch point.

    Democrats on the Hill or in the White House try to pull it up to 30, Republicans try to pull it back to 25. A deal is struck at 28. Washington Republicans call it victory: "Hey, it coulda been 29!" But regular conservative-minded or Republican voters see yet another loss. They could live with 18. They'd like eight. Instead it's 28.


  2. RK - I can't believe that I find myself agreeing with Peggy Noonan!

    Frank: I understand many of the points that you make here but disagree as well (who would think, in politics?) Based on our previous conversations, I know that you want the same thing for this nation that I do, we probably disagree -- on the margins -- on how to get there.

    The issue of "compromise" comes down to this: does compromising with statists, intent on bankrupting this nation and forcing us all into a socialist dystopic vision for America actually end up being compromise? If a Constitutional advocate gives up 50% + of his beliefs to compromise with statists, who wins? Would the Founders have compromised with today's left? I don't think they would today, nor would they ever have. The Founders compromised, but within a framework that kept their vision intact. Modern Republicans have done no such thing. They essentially say, "we don't like this new programs, so let's nibble at the fringes and call it "compromise""...

    Where did GWB's No Child Left Behind, deficit spending, acceleration in the progressive tax code, LBJ-esque increase in the Federal government -- all in the name of "compassionate conservatism" -- get us in the end? Was it not Barack Obama and the statist Congress's agenda, with a different menu?

    I think that Rand Paul's maiden speech was more about a theoretical line in the sand than anything, too.

  3. You guys are real patriots...lemme just start off by saying that upfront.

    I want the whole government to be about 25% at least smaller in spending than it is today. But I am not Tinkerbell and I can not just touch my wand tip to the top of the Capitol Dome and 'make it so'.

    here's what a decade of not negotiating on spending bills has gotten us: $14 trillion in national debt heading towards $20 trillion in the next 6 years...guaranteed. That is going to happen whether we like it or not just due to the magnitude of the cost-drivers inherent in SS and Medicare.

    Every single time we have refused to take any spending reductions because some democratic senator has stood in the doorway and said he won't vote for cloture unless he gets this, this and that, is another trillion in debt the GOP and the Democrats have rung up on the cash register.

    I don't think we need to give away the store at the outset. How about a 'compromise' where all of the wasteful spending in the defense budget gets eliminated (check out how many defense companies leave the southern coast tip of Alaska now that Ted Stevens is no long the head of the defense approps and is dead to boot to protect those companies' funding sources...the federal budget) in return for a retirement age hike in SS and Medicare tomorrow?

    i would take that like I stole something!

    But many on the right adamantly say: 'Nooooo! You can't do that! There is a contract 'guaranteeing' the rights of people to get 'exactly what they expected when they started paying into SS and Medicare!'

    I never signed that mythical 'contract'...did any of youse guys out West?

    I asked one guy who is a 'No Compromise GUY!' and who worked on the Hill for many years if he would accept a $1 tax hike on the 50% of the people who now pay ZERO income tax, not even the rest of the people, in return for a $4 trillion spending reduction bill. It might violate a promise to not raise taxes....but we would get $4 trillion in savings from not spending that money and only $150 million in higher tax revenues.

    In short, a negotiator that could get that sort of deal should get the Nobel Peace Prize.

    he said: 'No! No Way! Not under Any Circumstances!'

    in my opinion, that is 1) nuts; 2) insane; 3) crazier than a March Hare whose momma is lady Ga-Ga and whose daddy is Ozzy Osbourne and 4) simply against the intent of the original framework of the Constitution.

    Maybe we just need better negotiators up there on the conservative side. Know of any who could do it?

    otherwise, strap up your boots and prepare for when the foreign investors start telling us what to do and when to do it. Cause that is what we did when we balked on loaning Britain any more money for the Suez Canal and effectively, that was the end of the glorious British Empire after about 300 years of rule and domination

  4. here's sumptin' else to think about and put in your pipe and smoke for awhile:

    Why not just keep negotiating with the Obama WH and Democratic Senate until kingdom come....and not pass anything for a while? Like the next year or 2 or 10?

    that way, the federal budget would be funded at last year's levels, which were elevated from 2008 significantly...but after a while, it would in effect become a budget freeze and things would balance out sooner than later?

    the inherent growth in Medicare and SS would continue unabated and eventually crowd out everything else when you throw in Medicaid and the (explosive) interest costs that are sure to happen when interest rates return to some sense of 'normalcy'...say 5,6,7%...which they will.

    But a CR is not a bad outcome....for a while.

  5. Great points. All well thought out and valid.

    While I agree that compromise is essential to getting almost anything done in politics compromise should run in both directions. It often doesn't, and for substantive reasons.

    Consider the following paraphrase of an AR statement....

    When good compromises with evil the good does not win, rather evil is made stronger by the inherent weakening of the good. The result of compromising with evil.

    I realize this is more philosophical than political, however the point is valid and therein lies the difficulty in compromise.

    The integrity and intentions of the founders you refer to are eons above most of current day politicians. Especially the modern left.

    Just my two cents worth.

  6. @ all LCR commentators

    I really think we are missing the root of the grassroots conservative frustration. I think we all would be willing to comprimise if Republicans would fight for a cohesive conservative principle in the first place.

    Heck, I'd support welfare if it worked (and it never does)!

    What happens for Republicans is policy starts at the negociation table instead of the American people. With the exception of "We are gonna cram it secretly then cram it anyways!" from the Democrats, I have to hand it to them. They wanted to push liberal policy and they tried to make an impassioned case for it. They spent months trying to get public support for it. They had every opportunity and lost on all counts, then settled on a Germanic Blitzkreig over comprimise.

    I'd give comprimise a chance if Republicans would put up on conservative ideas and live or die promoting them BEFORE GOING TO THE NEGOCIATION TABLE.

    Let's face it, there's a battle raging over bigger vs smaller government. I'm sick of politicians trying to avoid attracting/friendly or enemy fire.

  7. these battles today are no less virulent than they existed at the beginning of the Republic.

    the problem with true blue conservative believers, especially those who have solid business bonafides and experience, I have found over 22 years in Washington is that they are very 'impatient'. Business people are used to telling people what to do and when to do it or else we go broke....and that does NOT translate to the federal government.

    Especially when the ex-president of a major corporation (i worked for one) all of a sudden at age 52...becomes merely a freshman congressman, one out of 435 and way, way down the seniority chart. We spent the first 2 years finding out where the bathrooms were!

    that is frustrating...especially when we have to have solution 'NOW!' dadgumit!

    Reagan did it best..get 60%/70% of what you can this year..and come back next year and try again.

    heck businesspeople negotiate and compromise every single day...if they ever give out a discount or a promotional allowance, that is a 'compromise' to get a deal done.

    why not do the same in Congress? We just need to have better negotiators, I fully agree with that.

    one other problem for the Tea Party? I saw a lot of nice little old mad ladies carrying signs that said: "Keep. Your. Government. Hands. OFF. MY. MEDICARE!'

    You can't have it both ways...you either want and will work for smaller government in every single government program, including SS and Medicare...or you don't. And then you are screwed cause you have really violated your small government principles, which should be our over-arching umbrella principle first, second and 1 thousandth...not rely solely on the 'tax cut' mantle.

    tax cuts come when you cut spending...quid pro quo

  8. one side note: great quote about how 'nasty' current politics is versus the golden past:

    John Adams once wrote in a letter that Thomas Jefferson was 'A bastard son of an Indian squaw who eats hoecakes!'

    now that is hitting someone below the belt.....

  9. Republicans have been compromising in California for years, and it has destroyed both the state and the Republican Party. Every time there's a budget crisis, Republicans cave on taxes and they never get pension reforms, collective bargaining reforms, tenure reform, school choice, state worker headcount reduction, or any other real reform. Look where that got us -- worst or near-worst state in almost every category: highest taxes, worst business climate, worst schools, worst credit rating, etc.

    And those same years of "compromise" have destroyed the state Republican Party. Now that the party has zero credibility on fiscal issues, the only choice voters have is on social issues: social liberal Dems or social conservative Reps. And since California is a socially tolerant state, the Dems win every time. Every single statewide office and a vast majority of both houses of the legislature! Nice compromise!

    The same thing happens at the national level. Witness the Republican Congress under Bush that compromised on pork and spending, destroyed the budget, and then got their ass handed to them in the elections. "Compromise" to legislators typically means, "You get a Twine Museum in your district if I get a big deal for a defense contractor who contributes to my campaigns." George W. Bush came into office with a reputation for bipartisanship. How did that work out for the country? Medicare Part D. Huge (at least by pre-Obama standards) deficits. How did that work out for the party?

    Notice how the worst pork abusers of the last several years were the Congresspeople known to "reach across the aisle."

    Compromise = corruption.
    Compromise = big government.

  10. Furthermore, the whole concept of "compromise" is nebulous and designed to persuade squishy Republicans to surrender.

    I'd happily compromise between Jim DeMint's, Rand Paul's, and the deficit commission's spending proposals. But compromise with radical left Democrats on how much to increase spending? Never.

    Even though "compromise" can theoretically be good depending on where the bounds of the debate are set, politicians who portray themselves as "compromisers" typically just mean that they're not fiscal conservatives and will fold like a cheap suit in the face of Democrat and/or mainstream media pressure.

  11. I beg to differ...

    what you have described above are just negotiators that are not very good at negotiating.

    You NEVER give up an inch of what you oppose in return for more of what the other side WANTS to get in the first place!

    Here's where conservatives have screwed the pooch in my humble opinion, many times, over the years: They have mistaken the basic core tenet of smaller government as being cutting taxes and increasing defense spending....when small government means 'SMALL GOVERNMENT!'

    so it is very easy to agree to a so-called 'compromise' when your side is getting the tax cuts you lust after AND the other side gets the spending they want. And over the past 10 years, the GOP has gotten the tax cuts AND the spending increases in defense, education, Medicare Part D and about everything else under the sun (W never vetoed one single solitary spending bill...in 8 years) that makes them very warm and fuzzy inside and calling that compromise a 'victory'.

    it is fiscal suicide and insanity at its core.

    So, you are right, compromise on those terms is idiotic. But if we ever return to the days where small government and less spending is our raison d'etre, then getting trillions in actual, scorable real spending cuts is worth almost any sorta of compromise a solid negotiator can achieve.

    the conservatives have just been hijacked and hoodwinked over the past 10 years. Completely.

  12. "Here's where conservatives have screwed the pooch in my humble opinion, many times, over the years: They have mistaken the basic core tenet of smaller government as being cutting taxes and increasing defense spending....when small government means 'SMALL GOVERNMENT!'"

    No argument here Frank!!

  13. @ Frank - You said "Business people are used to telling people what to do and when to do it or else we go broke....and that does NOT translate to the federal government."

    I agree, however this is framed in only a partially correct way.

    Businessmen/women, at least the intelligent ones anyway, select a competent supporting cast if you will, layout the vision, ask for input, ideas, and advice, and then make a decision. Once made that is the game plan for the company.

    Once made the businessman/women expects reasonable positive results in a given time frame. When this fails to happen an explanation is rightfully demanded.

    It is called. ACCOUNTABILITY. Something our federal government knows little or nothing about.

  14. "You can't have it both ways...you either want and will work for smaller government in every single government program, including SS and Medicare...or you don't. And then you are screwed cause you have really violated your small government principles, which should be our over-arching umbrella principle first, second and 1 thousandth...not rely solely on the 'tax cut' mantle.

    tax cuts come when you cut spending...quid pro quo."

    Essentially a fair and valid statement. Lets be sure to reiterate the need to toss up the defense budget for scrutiny and subsequent cuts as well.

  15. Couple more things.

    1) Your points 8 - 10 are not in the Constitution. I'm sure you know that but the way it's written makes it sound like they are.

    2) The 60-vote cloture is not from the Constitution, Jefferson, or any founding fathers. Two-thirds cloture came in under Woodrow Wilson, and then in 1975 the Democrats changed it to 60 votes.

  16. @rational nation: Good point on accountability.

    that is why:

    1) we need more and better people to run for office and not sit on the sidelines and let lesser qualified or experienced people to run and win and then have the voting card in your hands, not them.

    (not pointing any fingers here at anyone but has anyone on this string of comments ever run for any political office? if not, you should.)

    2) we have 'accountability'...it is called 'bi-ennial elections'...we are just too lazy to vote the bad characters out...you can do it even in a gerry-mandered district if you get organized enough to do so.

  17. @wcvarones: you are correct...they are procedural practices from Jefferson's Parliamentary Procedures.

    The concept of the filibuster was there as well....I wish we could go back to that because that will really force compromises or else Senators will pass out on the floor of the Senate talking themselves to death and blocking EVERYTHING ELSE from being passed! (which might not be a bad idea come to think about it....)

    I ran out of time and space to more fully expand on these differences but thanks for pointing it out,.....

  18. Yes let's compromise- Democrats and Republicans should BOTH agree to let their pet programs and interests get cut in order to avert a major fiscal and monetary disaster.

  19. @ Wes - To turn a phrase, AMEN brother!


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